Gone Fishing

Figure 1. Packing for a full month away. Everything but the kitchen sink.

Figure 1. Packing for a full month away. Everything but the kitchen sink.

On the 9th of December in 2015, I set out for a camping trip with my three young children to the Sapphire Coast of Australia, toward the New South Wales and Victorian border (Figure 1). The last time I had driven through this stunning part of the world, was when my parents decided to take their four children across country in a Ford Cortina station wagon to visit their first cousins on apricot and citrus farms in South Australia.

I turned eight years of age over that summer, and the memories of that trip are etched into our hearts. We've laughed countless times over events on that holiday, all of which were borne from a “lack of access” to technology, resulting in “close-ess” and “togetherness.” Loxton, South Australia, only had two television channels back then-the ABC news, and 5A which showed endless games and replays of cricket. While we grew to love cricket — we had no choice - we welcomed every opportunity to physically help our cousins gather fruit using nothing but ladders and our bare hands.

It was the festive season, and I remember lots and lots of family gatherings, parties, and outdoor lamb-spit barbecues. We gathered to eat, and dance, and our elders reminisced over what life was like in the village in Greece, and tell us funny stories about growing up with hardly any material possessions. Highlights included: when a photographer visited the village once every other year to take pictures with his humungous boxed contraption, which he would hide behind; the memory of the first time a car was spotted trying to come into the village; walking to school one hour away with shoes made out of goat skin (if not barefoot); and the harsh unheated winters and boiling hot summers over scenic Sparta.

It was a kind of celebration of life when I think back. It was so carefree, clean and pure, and joyous! Everyone lived in the moment. No one took pictures of their food to post to Instagram, no one had their head buried in front of a screen watching YouTube on demand, and we were outside in the fresh air awestruck by the beauty of the glistening stars that shone so bright in the night sky (and getting bitten by mosquitos while doing so). It was a kind of SnapChat without the “Snap.” On that trip I gained an appreciation for the land, and its importance in sustaining us as human beings.

As I reflect on that time, we travelled through remote parts of Australia with nothing but ourselves. We were too poor to stay at hotels, so dad ingeniously turned our station-wagon into a caravan, or so it seemed to us when the back seat folded forward and the travelling bags were placed on the roof rack secured with a blue tarpaulin.

Figure 2. The great Australian outdoor toilet, proverbially known as a “dunny” Used in one camp site the kids endearingly nicknamed “Kalaru Poo.”

Figure 2. The great Australian outdoor toilet, proverbially known as a “dunny” Used in one camp site the kids endearingly nicknamed “Kalaru Poo.”

We had no mobile phone in the car, no portable wifi-enabled tablet, no gaming DS, and certainly no down-screen DVD player or in-car navigation system to interrupt the ebb and flow of a family confined to a small space for six weeks. Mum would put on a few Greek cassettes for us to sing along to (Dad's “best ofs” which he had dubbed from the radio), and we paid particular attention to the landscape and wildlife. Mum would tell stories nostalgically about the time before we were born and how she left her homeland at seventeen on her own. And dad would talk about the struggles of losing his mother just before the start of World War II, and how his schooling was interrupted in third class as towns were burned to the crisp by the invaders, and how lucky we were to have a chance at education in a peaceful nation. All the while my brother Arthur was pointing at how far we had driven with his AO mapliterally thousands of kilometres-which gave me a great sense of space and time that has stayed with me to this day. And of course, I do recollect the unforgettable chant of my little sister and big sister in near unison, “are we there yet?”

Last December 2015, after a demanding year in my various roles that included bi-monthly long-haul travel, I was determined to “shut down” the outside world, and give my children what my parents had given me, in all the same simplicity (Figure 2). I somehow needed to give my children my full attention for a four-week duration without a laptop in tow, ensuring that my body and mind would recover from the year that was. I knew I was drifting into overload in September 2015, when on one occasion, I found myself asking my husband which side of the road I should be driving on, even when I was in my home town.

Figure 3. The most spectacular and secluded Nelson Beach down the trail of Nelson Lake Rd near Mogareeka, NSW.

Figure 3. The most spectacular and secluded Nelson Beach down the trail of Nelson Lake Rd near Mogareeka, NSW.

Figure 4. My youngest walking near the most spectacular Wallagoot Gap. We spent the day out at this magical place, swimming with the fish.

Figure 4. My youngest walking near the most spectacular Wallagoot Gap. We spent the day out at this magical place, swimming with the fish.

When one loves life and what they do, it is easy to feel so energized that you don't feel the need to stop… but “stop” I did. I wanted to reconnect with the natural environment in a big way, with my kids, and my inner self. I found myself asking those deep questions about creation - who, what, when, how? What an incredible world we live in! How does it all work and hang together as it does? I felt so thankful. Thankful for my family, my friends, my work, nature, life, Australia. It is so easy to take it for granted.

Each day, we'd choose a different place to visit, not excluding unsealed roads that led to secluded beaches, lakes, and inlets (Figures 3 and 4). Every morning we were awakened by the birdlife - a strange creature would call out at 4:30 a.m. for about 15 minutes straight, and then give it a rest; spotted lizards a few meters long on the road, and lots of kangaroos coming out of hiding at dusk to socialize. While we swam we could see the fish in the sea (with and without snorkels), and we got to speak with complete strangers, feeling like we had all the time in the world to do so.

At historical places, we learned about indigenous people like “King Billy” of the Yuin clan who would often be seen walking unheard distances in the 1950s in the dense shrub between Jervis Bay and Eden − 300 km (Figure 5).

 

Figure 5. The Yuin people (aka Thurga) are the Australian Aborigines from the South Coast of New South Wales. At top are images of legendary “King Billy” as he was nicknamed.

Figure 5. The Yuin people (aka Thurga) are the Australian Aborigines from the South Coast of New South Wales. At top are images of legendary “King Billy” as he was nicknamed.

My kids began to make comments about how resourceful the aborigines would have been, catching fresh fish, making new walking tracks, and being blessed to live in a pristine world before the built environment changed it so radically (Figure 5). It was not difficult for me to imagine throwing in my current lifestyle for the serenity, peace, and tranquillity of the bush. The kids and I would be outside under the sun for at least 12 hours each day, and it was effortless and filled with activities, and so very much fulfilling (Figure 6).

Figure 6.  The sun setting on New Year's Eve celebrations in 2015 in Merimbula, NSW

Figure 6. The sun setting on New Year's Eve celebrations in 2015 in Merimbula, NSW

Figure 7. Pre-bedtime entertainment in our tent. Another game of Snakes & Ladders anyone?

Figure 7. Pre-bedtime entertainment in our tent. Another game of Snakes & Ladders anyone?

The kids didn't watch any television on this trip even though they had access to it in one camp spot (Figure 7). I spoke on the cell phone only a handful of times, and on some days I did not use electricity (they were my favorite days). Many times we did not have any cell phone coverage for large parts of the day. I learnt some important things about each of my children on this trip and about myself and the world we live in (Figure 8). And I'd love to do it all again, sooner than later.

We've been sold the idea that technology provides security for us but I am of the opinion that at least psychologically it leads to insecurity (1). It is a paradox. My eldest kept asking what we would do if we got a flat tire or engine trouble deep down a dirt road where we had no connectivity, or what we'd do in the event of a bushfire (Figure 9). Good questions I thought, and answered them by driving more slowly and carefully, avoiding sharp rocks and potholes, and more than anything, turning to prayer “God, keep me and my children safe. Help us not to panic at a time of trouble, and to know what to do. Help us not to be harmed. And help us not to have fear.” For all intense and purposes, technology which has been sold to us for security, breeds a false sense of security and even greater fear. We have learned to rely on mobile phones or the Internet, even when we don't need them. It has become a knee-jerk reaction, even if we have the stored information at hand readily available.

 

Figure 8. The kids posing for a photo with a big snail at Merimbula's Main Beach. Such a great opportunity for all of us to bond even closer together.

Figure 8. The kids posing for a photo with a big snail at Merimbula's Main Beach. Such a great opportunity for all of us to bond even closer together.

I am thankful I turned to art on this trip - a decision I made a few days before I left my home (see cover image of this issue). I loved speaking to real people, in person, and asking them to participate (2). Being able to hear their laughs, and see the expressions on their faces, and listen to their respective stories was so satisfying. On a few occasions I embraced people I met after opening my heart to life matters, challenges, joys, and sorrows. The cool thing? I met lots of people that reminded me of my mum and dad; lots of people who had three or four or more (or no) children - and felt connected more than ever before to the big family we call “society.” We'd sit around at the beach, at the rock pool, or the camp site, listening and learning from one another, and somehow indirectly encouraging one another onwards. We soon realized these were shared experiences and there was a solidarity, a “oneness,” an empathy between us.

Figure 9. Going down a steep and narrow unsealed road with lots of potholes at Mimosa Rocks National Park. One way down and only one way up.

Figure 9. Going down a steep and narrow unsealed road with lots of potholes at Mimosa Rocks National Park. One way down and only one way up.

We returned home a few days early due to heavy rains, and unexpectedly I did not feel the drive to return to my email trove that I figured had grown substantially in size. The thought crossed my mind that I could get heavily depressed over the thousands of messages I had missed. But I controlled that temptation. The last thing I wanted at that point was to get bogged down again in the rhythm of the digital world. Friends and colleagues might have been shocked that I did as I said I would do - utterly disconnect - but I learned something very fundamental… time away from the screen makes us more human as it inevitably brings us closer together, closer to nature, and also brings things into perspective.

Depending on our work, we can feel captive behind the screen at times, or at least to the thousands of messages that grace our laptops and mobile phones. They make us even more digital and mechanical - in intonation, action, even movement and thought. Breaking with this feeling and regaining even a little bit of control back is imperative every so often, lest we become machine-like ourselves. It is healthy to be “Just human,” without the extensions and the programs. In fact, it is essential to revitalize us and help us find our place in the world, as sometimes technology leads us too quickly ahead of even ourselves.

While it is an intuitive thing to do, you might find yourself having to work that little bit harder to make the unplugged time happen. But breaking free of all the tech (and associated expectations) occasionally, reinforces what it once meant to be human.

References

1. M. Lacy, "Cities of panic and siege psychosis" in Security Technology and Global Politics: Thinking with Virilio, New York, NY:Routledge, pp. 69f, 2014.

2. K. Michael, "Unintended consequences 1–100", [online] Available: http://www.katinamichael.com/call-for-papers/2016/1/14/unintended-consequences-1-100-artwork.

Citation: Katina Michael, "Gone Fishing: Breaking with the Biometric Rhythm of Tech-Centricism", IEEE Technology and Society Magazine ( Volume: 35, Issue: 4, Dec. 2016 ), pp. 6 - 9, Date of Publication: 19 December 2016, DOI: 10.1109/MTS.2016.2618738.

The State-Society Relationship: Big Data's Big Future - But for Whom

When we ponder on the future, scenario-based planning is one of a number of approaches we can employ to consider the “what-might-be” possibilities. These are plausible scenarios that let us peer into the future, not with certainty of what will eventuate but with a spirit of consideration and preparedness.

Recently, Katina was invited to participate in Australia's Prime Minister & Cabinet series of workshops on the state-society relationship. A number of fundamental questions were posed at the workshops relating to futures. Some of these are highly pertinent to the thought-provoking Special Section guest edited in this issue by the studious Associate Editor Jeremy Pitt, Ada Diaconescu, and David Bollier, addressing matters of the digital society, big data, and social awareness. The questions included:

  1. What can governments use crowdsourcing for?
  2. How does government operate in a networked environment?
  3. Can Big Data help government solve problems?
  4. How will government respond to the empowered individual?
  5. How can governments effectively manage cities to meet the challenges of urbanization?
  6. How will the government communicate with its citizens given instant communications?

To some degree answering one of these questions provides insights into answers for others. For the purposes of this editorial, we'd rather ask:

  1. What can citizens use crowdsourcing for?
  2. How can companies effectively manage cities to meet the challenges of urbanization?

It should come as no surprise that in the last 12 months, T&S Magazine has published articles on a variety of themes relevant to the above-mentioned questions, relating to smart grids, smart homes, smart meters, energy monitoring, public technical means, public sector information, open government, big data, geosocial intelligence, the veillances (data-, sous- and uber-), future government, crowdsourcing, collective awareness, participatory government, and design science and development.

What binds all of these topical themes together is the emphasis on finite resources available to serve a growing highly mega-urbanized networked glocal population that places immense pressures on the natural environment. Take for example the Beijing-Shanghai corridor fueled with several megacities that are each suffering dire environmental problems. Scientists internationally have especially attempted to raise alarm bells as they report on increases in carbon emissions and air pollution, on rising sea levels (e.g., Jakarta), on changing weather patterns (El-Niño), on dying species of plants and wildlife, on the need for recycling and unacceptable means of waste disposal (especially e-waste), and on the fundamental necessity for clean drinking water.

There is no such thing as the “land of plenty.” Pristine artesian wells are being drilled as a last resort to supplying water to the impoverished. Oil reserves are fast depleting but stockpiles are in the hands of the accumulators. Rich minerals like coal and iron ore are being mined amidst a flurry of research activity into affordable renewable energy sources. Categorically our present actions will have a direct impact on our livelihoods (economic, health, social), and those of our children, and our children's children.

But we are living in the “upgrade generation” fueled by mass production, instantaneous consumption, and enough waste generation to land-fill entire new nations. The core question is whether technology can help solve some of the biggest problems facing our earth or whether the rhetoric that says using technology to correct economic externalities is a misnomer.

PetaJakarta.org team survey damage along the Ciliwung River using GeoSocial Rapid Assessment Survey Platform (#GRASP) via Twitter, as neighborhood children look on.

PetaJakarta.org team survey damage along the Ciliwung River using GeoSocial Rapid Assessment Survey Platform (#GRASP) via Twitter, as neighborhood children look on.

Let us ponder on the affirmative however. What role can big data play in civic infrastructure planning and development? Can citizens contribute data via crowdsourcing technologies to help service providers and government have better visibility of the problems on the ground?

For example, in the Chinese megacities that have emerged, capturing data that indicates where there is a pressing need for cleaner drinking water is imperative for the health and welfare of citizens. Doing this systematically might mean that citizens contribute this knowledge via a text message or through the use of social media, giving municipal and provincial governments and specific agencies in charge of waterways, such as environmental protection authorities, an ability to better plan and respond in a timely manner.

Similarly, if we can monitor zones prone to flooding that affect tens of millions of people, we might be able to lessen the burden on these citizens by informing civil infrastructure planners in the government to respond to the underlying problems perpetuating the flooding during monsoon season. Refer here to the work of Etienne Turpin and Tomas Holderness of the SMART Infrastructure Facility www.petajakarta.org. Here citizens send a text message using Twitter, some with location information and others with photographs attached, allowing partner organizations such as NGOs to get a complete picture of trends and patterns at a dwelling level, and collectively assess areas of major concern affected by banjir (i.e., floods). Is it possible to use this data to drive change?

Socio-technical systems in their purest form are there to fulfill user-centered aims, and not to act against an individual's freedom and human rights. Will we be able to convert the present senseless surveillance fueled by mega-companies and governments to a net-neutral opt-in detection and alert system toward access for basic needs and longer term sustainability for communities far and wide? At what point will citizens be able to donate their mobile and Internet and general utilities data without the risk of potential harm to themselves and their families? Or are we blindly being led down a utopian scenario that will ultimately be used to control or manipulate the masses even further?

Additionally, what will be the repercussions on private enterprise? To date utility companies have been taking advantage of their own inability to offer services that run on efficient energy redistribution to their subscribers. Of course it has never been in their best interest to “rob from the rich to feed the poor,” precisely because by offering this kind of redistribution, utilities companies would negatively be impacting on their bottom line. What will all this big-data achieve? An ever-greater ability to scrutinize the subscriber, based on smart meter data, in order to generate even more revenues for private companies who have taken on once government-based responsibilities.

We must not be myopic – big data can be used for us or against us. This issue presents the positive value of “collective action,” a fundamental ability to commandeer resources together, often self-organized, toward the benefit of our community at large. This is not a new phenomenon but with the aid of technology, both data collection and analysis have become possible at granular levels of detail. It is up to us to anticipate the risks associated with such engineering design principles, and introduce safeguards that will make such an approach work.

Citation: Katina Michael, Xi Chen, 2014, "The State-Society Relationship: Big Data's Big Future - But for Whom", IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Volume: 33, Issue: 3, Fall 2014, pp. 7-8. DOI: 10.1109/MTS.2014.2349572

Securing the Cloud (book review)

Securing the Cloud: Cloud Computer Security Techniques and Tactics

    With so much buzz around Cloud Computing, books like this one written by Winkler are much in demand. Winkler's experience in the computing business shines through and as readers we are spoiled with a great deal of useful strategic information – a jam packed almost 300 page volume on securing the cloud.

    Winkler, presently a senior associate at Booz Allen Hamilton has had more than 30 years of experience servicing U.S. Government clients, and as Chief Technologist for Security for the Sun Microsystems Public Cloud, in applications engineering, and IT operations and management in a number of organizations. Winkler has numerous technical conference publications, and among his many achievements, he was a visiting cyber security expert authoring the Information Security policy for the Government of Malaysia.

    The book begins with a well-needed introduction for those who are new to cloud computing. Winkler describes how the cloud works, the importance of securing the cloud, and its fundamental architecture.

    Chapter 2 goes into greater detail on the cloud reference architecture, introducing cloud service and deployment models and differentiating between public, private, community and hybrid clouds, and the cloud software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) models.

    To be commended, before entering an in-depth discussion on how to architecture a secure cloud, Winkler spends chapter 3 discussing security concerns, risk issues, and legal aspects. As a privacy specialist myself, it is very heartening to see that Winkler addresses those very difficult questions that every client asks about privacy and confidentiality concerns, data ownership and locale concerns, and other aspects like emerging threats, third parties, data privacy and litigation.

    Chapters 4–6 are all about ways in which we can secure the cloud – the underlying architecture, data security, and key strategies and best practices. These chapters are at the heart of the book as we are taken on a guided tour about standards and policies, honeypots, sandboxes, network and cabling patterns and the like. For the important area of data security within the cloud we are introduced to the idea of control over data and public cloud economics, ownership and custodianship, data encryption and its limitations, and access control techniques for data categorization. The deletion of data within the cloud is also discussed, something that is becoming vital from the lessons learnt in the social media environment. Key strategies and best practices in securing the cloud are presented in chapter 6 from first principals. NIST definitions are given in security controls and unclassified and classified models are compared. Security monitoring by the CIA is addressed and the emphasis is placed on reliable streams of data – a notion introduced as MaaS – Monitoring as a Service.

    Chapter 7 and 8 look at security criteria with respect to building an internal cloud (i.e. private cloud) versus selecting an external cloud provider. The internal cloud choice is based on the security implications offset between a shared versus dedicated resources solution. Criteria for ensuring a secure private cloud include: network considerations, data center considerations, operational security considerations, and regulation. For the selection of an external cloud provider a discussion is given on assurance and how to verify independently the claims made by a given vendor.

    Chapter 9 is about evaluating your cloud security using an information security framework. Checklists are provided to help cloud personnel evaluate the stealth of their given solution, including a manner for placing metrics against the checklists.

    Chapter 10 is about operating a cloud and is very much intended for the manager who is in charge of the business case toward a cloud solution. Processes, efficiency and cost are all covered aspects as well as security operations activities that typically are related to business continuity and recovery.

    As a former pre-sales engineer, what I loved most about this book was the obvious hands-on strategic and technical experience that Winkler bought to every aspect of it. It is really a practitioner's guide to cloud computing security. I appreciated the descriptive figures, the tips, the warnings, the notes, the tools, the stories of failures and successes but most of all the comprehensive nature of the real world descriptions.

    Citation: Katina Michael, [Book Review] "Securing the Cloud: Cloud Computer Security Techniques and Tactics" by Vic (J.R.) Winkler. Computers & Security,  Vol. 31, No. 4, June 2012, Page 633, Syngress|Elsevier, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cose.2012.03.006